Showdown at the P.O. Corral

May 9, 2008

WE WON! We won! Not the election of course, but rather the fight to save Essex Road Post Office from the ravages of a Labour Government bent on ruining anything of benefit to the poor & vulnerable. A concerted effort involving the local community, our PPC Bridget Fox and the Lib-Dem run Council had produced an agreement with Royal Mail Ltd. to allow a franchisee to take it over.

This was a tremendous victory for Bridget. She’d campaigned for over a year to keep it open, and had gathered thousands of petition signatories and organised hundreds of people into protests. I’d taken pictures of lots of them and put them into exciting leaflets. And so we marched down Essex Road early on Wednesday morning to proclaim our victory before the media.

Unfortunately, Labour had had the same idea. The local MP and champion pie-eater Emily Thornberry had been given a roasting in the press over the hypocrisy inherent in voting in favour of post office closures in Parliament while simultaneously campaigning to keep an Islington branch open. A few minutes after we arrived a rather aggressive man in a red t-shirt appeared and started shoving a piece of paper with ‘Emily saved the PO’ scrawled on it in marker pen into the faces of passers by. We took advantage of this by introducing Lib Dem Councillor Emily Fieran-Reed to the same passers by. He then scrawled on the reverse ‘Local MP saves Post Office’, and given that an awful lot of Islington residents think that Bridget is already the MP thanks to our campaigning and Thornberry had chickened out of turning up, was again quite amusing.

More Labour activists showed up, and after an initial period of studiously ignoring each others’ existence we started to exchange accusations of lying. I nearly got into a fight with the aggressive red t-shirt, although to be fair he did become distinctly more aggressive after I tickled him to get him to lower the sign. It all got rather ugly. The lady from the Gazette took pictures of each set of politicos, then one of the avowedly ‘neutral’ people, which was quickly swarmed by Thornberry’s lackeys. So I pushed into the middle. Unsurprisingly, the neutral photo was used.

Politics shouldn’t have to be like this. Instead of coming together to celebrate a victory for the community, we spat at each other like children fighting over a toy. This is especially a shame, as one of the Labour activists was quite pretty. But it leads to an interesting question: would the Post Office have been less likely to be saved if two separate groups of people hadn’t been quite so determined to beat the other in terms of campaigning? Demonstrating that your party is better equipped to represent local people is a big spur to activism, and I am not convinced that either party would have put in quite so much effort if everyone had agreed to share the PR spoils equally. But then, that’s why socialism doesn’t work, isn’t it?

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